The Five Missions In the Scriptures

A scripture study exercise: if we wanted to summarize the overall message of major collections of scripture, what might they be?  We’re probably familiar with the “missions of the Church” formula–preach the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy–so, can we find similar missions communicated in books of scripture?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, with comments below:

 

Old Testament : Obey the law

New Testament : Perfect the saints

Book of Mormon : Learn the gospel

Doctrine and Covenants : Build the kingdom

Pearl of Great Price : Seek the Lord

 

Old Testament: I also considered “keep the commandments” and “follow the prophets.”  The first is similar to “obey the law,” but not as inclusive–there’s more to the Old Testament than the “thous shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”  Saying to “follow the prophets” resonates with us today, and certainly encompasses a major theme, but the largest idea in the Old Testament is that conforming to God’s whole system of living will bless us.

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Star Wars As a Dispensationalist Allegory

It’s a common quip that Mormon nerds love to make analogies between their church and Star Wars.  Short of some of the generic ideas about faith in the series, though (“I don’t believe it!” “That is why you fail.”), I haven’t actually seen much commentary from anyone linking the two. 

Now, Star Wars is not exactly deep theology, but after the release of the dreadful prequel trilogy, I did notice that the overall story arc meshes with our understanding of history pretty well.  In short, the original saga tells the story of a Restoration, while the newer three episodes go back to tell the story of the Apostasy.  In Episodes IV-VI, truths and powers that had been lost by persecution and rejection are slowly brought back to life as a new generation of heroes are called upon to start the work over.  Episodes I-III go back to show us just how those truths and powers were lost.  In fact, I started making this connection when I saw Yoda and Obi-Wan talking, and Yoda confessed that the Jedi Order was weakening and was not as close to the Force as it had once been.   I immediately pictured a late-first century meeting of church leaders to discuss the growing distance of the Spirit from their organization.  When the Jedi were exterminated in Episode III, I saw Apostles being beheaded, run through, and crucified head down. 

This is hardly a point-by-point metaphor.  Obviously, there are huge differences between Star Wars and church history.  However, with this basic template in mind, more than few solid correspondences can be made:

Church history figure Star Wars character Shared traits
Joseph Smith Luke Skywalker Conflicted young man from an obscure, pastoral setting is called upon by events around him to rise up and form a new order—a restoration of an older, lost order
Moroni Obi-Wan Kenobi The last human survivor of the lost order, he disappears from the setting until the founder of the new order is ready, whereupon he delivers early messages to the young man and begins his training
The priesthood The Force A supernatural power that had been lost with the destruction of the old order, which is bestowed on the new founder and which he learns to use from the survivors of the lost order.  Requires faith and effort to operate.  Is treated lightly by nonbelievers
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Dispensations In The Pearl Of Great Price

When I joined the LDS Church, my initial understanding of the Pearl of Great Price was that it was a hodgepodge of random, “left over” little scriptures that got stuffed in the back.  It wasn’t until later that I read from Hugh Nibley about how it was a collection of restored records from the major dispensations. 

Look up “dispensation” in the LDS Bible Dictionary and you get this: “A dispensation of the gospel is a period of time in which the Lord has at least one authorized servant on the earth who bears the holy priesthood and the keys….The Bible suggests at least one dispensation identified with Adam, another with Enoch, another with Noah, and so on with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus with his apostles in the meridian of time…. the final dispensation…began with the revelation of the gospel to Joseph Smith.”  Though other prophets began the work of bringing God’s truth back into the world again in their own times, these seven men are typically identified as the leaders of the seven major dispensations of Earth’s history (roughly equivalent to the seven seals in the Book of Revelation).  Certainly Jesus Christ is not “just another prophet,” like the other six, but did  establish his Church in his day, as they also did. 

Looking at the Pearl of Great Price through that lens, we see that it is a record of the initital calling and/or early ministry of Adam (Moses chapters 3-5), Enoch (Moses 6-7), Noah (Moses 8), Abraham (Book of Abraham), Moses (Moses chapter 1), Jesus Christ (Joseph Smith–Matthew), and Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith–History).  Not only does this give the “hodgepodge” Pearl of Great Price a coherent structure, it helps us see the regular, balanced nature of God’s work among mankind throughout history. 

To further illustrate the power of the Pearl of Great Price (and thus explain the appropriateness of the title), consider the Church’s student manual Doctrines of the GospelIts appendix lists all of the scriptural citations used in the text to illustrate the principles considered.  Though the Pearl of Great Price, at only 61 pages, constitutes less than 3% of the total body of scripture in the Standard Works, references to it add up to nearly 10% of all verses used in Doctrines of the Gospel.